Atheism’s Just So Scenarios


From Edward J. Oakes, S.J., over at First Things.:

Today, one can hardly find more puffed-up braggarts than those noisy New Atheists currently mounting their soapboxes in Hyde Park, and who seem to labor under the assumption that they are doing the human race a favor by attacking belief in God. In fact, as Nietzsche saw, in his own inimitably ironic way, these atheist frat boys are really attacking science. This is because for Nietzsche—who was perhaps the only truly honest atheist in the history of philosophy—science was ultimately a moral, not an epistemological problem, a point he drove home with special force in The Gay Science (all italics are his):

The question “Why science?” leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature, and history are “not moral”? . . . [I]t is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine. —But what if this should become more and more incredible, if nothing should prove to be divine any more unless it were error, blindness, the lie—if God himself should prove to be our most enduring lie?

In other words, atheist “scientists” are eating away at the very foundation that makes science possible in the first place. If God is “our most enduring lie,” science is inevitably founded on that same lie. After all, science teaches that all stars eventually die out, and with them the planets that orbit them, and once those planets are consumed by the suns that gave them birth, so too will vanish the pathetic creatures that emerged from their respective planetary slimes. Sure, soon after their emergence, they began to invent such high-blown Platonic words like knowledge and truth during their brief strut upon the otherwise empty stage of the cosmos. But so what?

I am not trying to argue here against such a scenario, it being an option impervious to argument anyway, at least among those who have already adopted it as their primary framework for addressing all other questions. (I speak from experience.) But it is a scenario that can hardly be regarded as consequence-free. The battle is still between nihilism and theism. There is no third option. What most fascinates me about the debate launched by the New Atheists is how resolute they are in ignoring this point. This is why I think that, rather than trying to argue the New Atheists (who are more dogmatic about God than any Thomist has ever been) out of their settled views, it seems best to take their very imperviousness as itself a sign of the human condition.

At least that was Pascal’s strategy in his Pensées: “We want truth and find only uncertainty in ourselves. We search for happiness and find only wretchedness and death. We are unable not to want truth and happiness, and are incapable of either certainty or happiness.”

That’s the real lesson of atheism: it tells us more about the human condition than it ever can about God. As Pascal again pointed out with his usual unsparing gaze: “If man is not made for God, why is he happy only with God? If man is made for God, why is he so hostile to God?”

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